An Appeal for Unity in a Divisive Season: A Critique of the Lakeland Revival

The Lakeland Revival has created tensions over doctrine and ministry styles. To avoid a crippling rift in the church we need strong leadership, clear discernment and a lot of love.

Revival is messy. As much as we would love for it to come in a neat and orderly package, history teaches us that outbreaks of the Holy Spirit are often accompanied by holy chaos. There may be conversions and healings in one corner and demonic manifestations in the other. In seasons of revival you can have miracles and mayhem. Holiness and heresy can erupt simultaneously.

When we look at the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts, we tend to focus on the positives: Dead people were raised, whole villages were saved and prison doors were opened supernaturally. On the flip side, this same revival season was interrupted by riots, opposed by religious legalists and tainted by false prophets, greedy charlatans and demons masquerading as angels.

Why must revival movements be so muddled? Perhaps it is because imperfect people (as well as sinister devils) get involved. Strange things happen when God’s power touches a sinful earth.
“I am appealing to the elders in our movement. In a desperate moment we need older, seasoned veterans to release the counsel of the Lord.”
When revival hit Wales in 1904, almost an entire nation bowed before Jesus within two years. Yet the weight of God’s presence drove the revival’s humble leader, Evan Roberts, into depression. Meanwhile author Jessie Penn-Lewis, writing in her book War on the Saints, suggested that fleshly manifestations in Welsh prayer meetings had snuffed out the Spirit’s power.

In our nation today thousands have been swept into the current of the Lakeland Revival in Florida, which began in early April in evangelist Todd Bentley’s meetings at Ignited Church. The fervor quickly spread because of God TV’s broadcasts, and today up to 10,000 gather nightly at a venue near the city’s airport. In recent days, people who were touched in Lakeland have started similar meetings in Atlanta, Chicago, Charlotte, N.C. and other cities. Bentley and his colleagues believe this is the beginning of a worldwide healing revival that will cover the globe.

But not everyone in the charismatic/Pentecostal community is convinced. Some say this is the last end-time revival while others maintain it is a demonic counterfeit. Cult-watchers and anti-heresy bloggers post Bentley’s comments on YouTube as evidence of a theological scandal. Revival advocates respond by posting documented evidence of healings. It all begins to resemble a childish competition.

Still others worry that Lakeland represents a questionable mixture of truth and error. Since the initial eruption of the revival, my inbox has been full of messages from charismatic leaders who are concerned about weighty issues as well as trivial ones: Everything from Bentley’s tattoos and body piercings to his claim that he once interviewed the apostle Paul in heaven.

When I wrote an article in mid-May calling for scrutiny of some aspects of the Lakeland Revival, I was labeled a Pharisee and a “religious policeman.” People who said they had been deeply impacted by the Holy Spirit in Lakeland used spiritual threats and harsh terms to tell me that I had become the enemy.

I refuse to go on the defensive, and if I need to retract any statement I’ve ever made about this revival I will. But what these nasty exchanges have shown me is that a divisive spirit is certainly at work in our midst—and we need urgent prayer to short-circuit what the devil wants to do.

When the early church was hit with the issue of Jewish legalism, Paul and Barnabas determined that the answer was to seek the counsel of “the apostles and elders” in Jerusalem (Acts 15:2, NASB). The church was being divided because the legalists were insisting that gentiles be circumcised. But when the elders looked into the matter, the apostle James settled the dispute by issuing this wise ruling:

“Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood” (v. 19-20). In other words, James affirmed the gentiles’ access to salvation and overturned the legalists’ bad doctrine.

Based on this biblical example, I am appealing to the elders in our movement. We need to hear from them in this hour. In a desperate moment we need older, seasoned veterans to release the counsel of the Lord.

Today the charismatic movement has become fractured, and opposing camps have formed. On one side there are those in the apostolic camp who tend to emphasize biblical order, proper church government, spiritual warfare and the reformation of society. On the other side are those in the prophetic camp who focus on miracles, healing, mystical experiences and the reclaiming of all the supernatural manifestations of the New Testament.

Both of these camps are contending for valid, biblical truths. We need the prophetic and the apostolic! We need miracles as much as we need healthy church growth and societal change. Yet if we do not have a holy intervention, we could bite and devour one another—and cancel out our collective impact.

A biblical council must include the leaders of both of these camps. And leaders must address all of the difficult issues triggered by the Lakeland Revival. Those include:

1. Biblical guidelines about angels. Some people in the prophetic camp speak of frequent visits to heaven, “third heaven revelations,” and long conversations with angels who use names such as Emma, Promise and Winds of Change. Are these indeed spirits sent from God, or agents of false light?

2. A proper theology of the dead. Some in the prophetic camp claim they have had conversations with dead Christians—including Paul the apostle. Is this within the bounds of Christian experience, or is it necromancy?

3. Pastoral guidance about exotic spiritual manifestations. In some circles in our movement, unusual signs and wonders have been reported in church services—including the sudden appearance of gold dust, feathers, gemstones and oil. At the same time, worshipers are vibrating on the floor, jerking uncontrollably and acting intoxicated. How can we protect people from the abuse of manifestations, and from demonic influence, while at the same time leaving room for genuine encounters with God?

4. Clear guidelines concerning the restoration of fallen ministers. The appearance of one prominent fallen evangelist, Paul Cain, at the Lakeland Revival in May unleashed strong reactions from many sectors of the church. Many people feel unprotected when they sense that church leaders have chosen not to enforce proper discipline for a minister’s unbiblical behavior. In this adulterous generation, how can we draw lines to protect congregations while at the same time offer healing and grace to a repentant preacher?

These are some of the crucial questions we face as a movement. May we proceed with a fresh gift of discernment, while at the same time laying hold of all the blessings that revival will bring us.

J. Lee Grady is the editor of Charisma. You can access his website here.
Note: many of these concerns appear to be addressed in this commissioning.